When I was young(er), I wished my parents had raised me to be religious. I spent so many years wanting so desperately to be a part of something. I never had a community. My extended family was distant, and my friends were not so friendly. I wished that I believed in something bigger. I wanted people and a purpose. I’ve never understood anything about life. It has never made any sense to me. I just got better at ignoring that fact, at burying those questions and doubts below my conscious awareness. But, really, if you’re not in pain and anger and denial right now, how aware are you?
How can I not constantly feel cheated and robbed of a world that could’ve been? How can we all not feel a deep and painful betrayal, that a few of our fellow humans would doom us to live like this?
I should make it clear: I’m not talking about COVID-19 here. I mean yes, I am, insofar as this crisis is giving us all more time to think than I’m sure most of us would like, and because it’s exposing the truly fucked-up system we live in.
But what I’m really talking about is a similar type of pain. The pain you feel late at night, curled up in bed in the dark, emotional or physical exhaustion finally breaking down your walls, letting you cry, letting you sob till your eyes hurt. The kind of body-wrenching sobs that remind you of being a child, held by your mother, crying over something beyond your comprehension, like how people can be so cruel. If capitalism, and the staggering amount of injustice it seeds and spreads, doesn’t make you sob, doesn’t make your psyche ache, then god, man, you’re either profiting too much off other people’s pain to care, or you’re just not paying attention.
My dad texted me an, admittedly, not very good joke the other day: “How’d you sleep last night?” “Like God during the Holocaust.”
I’ve dabbled with spirituality. I’d really like to believe in a higher power. I’d like to have that hope, I suppose. But if there is a God, They seem like kind of an asshole. This is another thing I cry about in the wee hours of the morning when everything has gotten to be too much. How can God let these children die? How can God let kids be put in cages? How can God make children’s parents work who-knows-how-many minimum-wage jobs just to put fast food on the table? How can God allow undocumented folks to be so totally fucked over in such a creative variety of ways? I don’t know. Maybe Trump really was made in the image of God.
Here’s something I do know. The past and current governments of the Untied States are responsible for countless deaths resulting from their policies, policies that have destabilized and exploited poorer countries all over the world, in addition to the American deaths that could have been prevented with a better health care system and social safety net. The history of the United States is soaked in the blood of the poor and people of color. During this crisis, our government will be responsible not just for many deaths nationally, but globally, as well.
The evils of capitalism are evil by design, whether divine or not. You look at any bad thing, and who does it affect the worst? Poor people, and even more so poor people of color. Even debt works differently for the rich!
So then here’s another question: Where’s the turning point? When do we, the proletariat, take action against our governmental and corporate overlords? We keep reaching these moments of realization that so many of us hope will be cruxes: the Women’s March, Parkland, Greta Thunberg, etc. Will this pandemic finally be the one?
We can see this phenomenon playing out right now, with all the talk of “the economy” and what’s good for it and what it needs.
Here’s a great example I learned earlier this year that shows why valuing the economy is such a terrible way to value a nation — because when we’re talking about the economy, we’re talking about gross domestic product. Feminist economist Marilyn Waring uses the example of an oil spill. Say an oil tanker crashes, and there’s a massive oil spill that costs $2.8 billion to clean up. We don’t then subtract $2.8 billion from our GDP; no, we add it. The GDP has very little to do with the actual health of a nation. It has nothing to do with the wellbeing of communities.
We’ve all noticed shifts in our nation in the past few weeks. If we can suspend religion, suspend going to confession, suspend government rules, suspend policing, suspend all the artbitary shit we’ve naturalized as normal, are we just supposed to pretend, when this is over, that we haven’t all seen the man behind the curtain? How much of this stuff just exists to keep us in line? And can we leverage this crisis to tear down those constructions and rebuild a more just world? We’re about to find out.